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Champions League

Mark Noble deserves West Ham Champions League swansong as Irons legend hits 400 PL games – Andy Dunn

In these days when you can just go out and borrow a player from a club that is supposed to be a rival, it is not going to be any easier for more Mark Nobles to come along.

After all, the need to nurture your own is lessened if you can lease a ready-made international talent from one of the elite.

But it is allowed by the Premier League, West Ham are taking full advantage, Jesse Lingard is enjoying a wonderful renaissance that might help his borrowers to a Champions League place and himself to a spot in England’s squad for the Euros, and Manchester United can hike their asking price and sell their misfit to the highest bidder.

If you are not bothered about the integrity of the Premier League, everyone’s a winner.

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And it could be argued Lingard will be having a positive effect on the youngsters at West Ham, with his dedication and professionalism an example to all.

In Declan Rice’s absence, Mark Noble has stepped in to begin his long and emotional goodbye

True. But if any young player wanted a role model, he or she could not find a finer one than Noble.

And as fundamentally rotten as the Premier League loan system is – no Jack Harrison for Leeds United against Manchester City on Saturday – at least Lingard’s influence could give Noble the chance to play in the Champions League in his farewell season.

In Declan Rice’s absence, Noble should make his 400th Premier League appearance for West Ham this weekend.

The 33-year-old might find it tough going against Leicester City’s dynamic midfield but he will make plenty of tackles, communicate clearly, organise, cajole, chastise.

And he will get an extra notch out of his ability. How? Why? Because that is what players with a special affinity for a club do.

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Gary Neville was a prime example. Different from Noble in that he had extensive international recognition, there is a similarity in that, club-wise, you simply could not imagine him in anything other than a Manchester United jersey.

Sorry, you could imagine him in another club jersey but you could not imagine him being half as good in it.

Few players have been as passionate as Noble and Gary Neville about representing the club they love

What it means to represent the club somehow lifts your levels.

Sometimes, you wondered whether other big clubs would be interested in buying someone such as Gary Neville or whether they knew he could never be as good in a shirt that did not have the Manchester United crest on it. And didn’t bother trying to get him out of Old Trafford.

The same probably applies to Noble. He is one player who is allowed to kiss the badge.

A 400th Premier League appearance is a milestone – Gary Neville called it a day after he reached that mark.

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Noble will not be calling it a day but, regardless of whether West Ham qualify for the Champions League or not, his starting chances next season will probably be limited.

Which is why, as much as he would like to avoid any fuss, each appearance will be treated as part of an emotional farewell.

Quite right, too. Because if anyone deserves a long goodbye, it is Mark Noble.

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